Sunday, October 25, 2015

The extra mile

How long had we been there trying on shoes? Maybe a half hour? Maybe more.

It had seemed to me to be a long time, anyway. The trip getting to the store was fraught with other commuters tailgating or performing automobile ballet and other magical maneuvers to get just a few feet ahead of us on the road.

I tried to relax by pretending there was a fire. Maybe they have an emergency to get to, and that's why they are so impatient. But I swore under my breath anyway.

Everyone always in a stupid rush to get nowhere.

She had her heart set on “combat boots,” or that's what she called the lightweight lace-up boots made of pleather that her generation would pair with a frilly dress and opaque tights. I didn't tell her about how my generation wore them, not after I saw the shadow of all the fashion possibilities parading past her eyes in the catwalk of her imagination.

And like any child about to get this weeks' heart's desire, she was thanking me profusely for this extra special spending spree.

Except …


I forgot my wallet.


Well, not exactly typical. Typical, for me, is walking to dinner with friends, having the wallet (unzipped) but not noticing as a credit card falls out of it like a single, solitary leaf windmilling away from its plastic tree.

Typical, as luck and mortification would have it, also involves friends finding it forthwith and spending the majority of the dinner hour making jokes.

Because, I can admit, my usual clueless has a humor all its own.

But I digress.

My daughter tries to conjure the card from thin air by going out to the parking lot to check the car as I dump out my bag's contents on the counter. Also a futile act, since I can see the card in my mind's eye where I left it … in a different wallet … on the dinning room table. At home. Twenty minutes away.

The lady behind the register is smiling her least awkward smile, not to mention apologizing to me for my own oversight.

My daughter came back into the store, arms lifted with the disbelieving expression of the tailgating drivers minus the anger.

Was it a minor or a major disappointment? I couldn't tell from her face. There were no frowns or tears. Just a half smile I couldn't decipher. She had planned to wear the boots tomorrow she told me; only I would be returning to the store at the same time to pick them up and pay for them. So she'd be wearing them in her mind.

But it was OK, she said, as the lady at the register tore a bit of tape, wrote our name on it and affixed it to our box, now stacked at the top of several others whose would-be owners also vowed to return at a later date.

It's just Picture Day tomorrow, and they don't show your feet.

And we drove home in a familiar silence that isn't exactly quiet since its filled with mild disappointment and pop radio banter.

I know I will drop her off at home, collect my wallet and go back to the store.

Who needs the hassle of a morning commute they don't need to make?

Especially when I'll get to see the official pictures: Her smiling face and unseen boots.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The bike path less traveled

Not long ago – and by “not long” I mean just prior to last Sunday – I had all but given up on the idyllic vision of our family riding bicycles through the countryside one day.

Now, I hadn't given up on this notion because of the lack of time or inclination on the part of adults, who, let's face it, aren't exactly the active sort in their off time. *Clears throat, cough-husband-cough, clears throat again.*

Nor was it my fear of winding, country roads with their dangerous blind curves; or newly licensed texting teens, Z-OMG; or even the middle-aged road ragers, some of whom have started making it a habit to show off the length of their middle fingers when we meet at the fulcrum of our weekend commutes – they in their cars, probably headed to a barroom at 7 a.m.; and me in my DayGlo-colored spandex, running at full jog along the road's shoulder, you know, sensibly.

No, my hopes for a family bike trip had circled the drain because of my youngest's insistence – at the ripe old age of eight -- that he would never, ever, never ever in a million years, ever ride a bike. Anywhere. Ever. Not unless it had training wheels, was tethered to a bike being ridden by his father, or was a part of some elaborate three-dimensional animated universe wherein he only had to stand in front of a blue screen and pretend to pedal. Then, and only then, would he even consider being anywhere near a bike.

No matter what I said or how I tried to convince him, no matter how many bikes he had to choose from, my son stubbornly stood his ground. He would not allow me, nor anyone else in our orbit, to run alongside him if there was even the remotest of possibilities they would let go of the two-wheeled death trap and watch incredulously as it catapulted off a cliff with him still astride, screaming in terror.

Because careening off a cliff as the whole world watches is what “letting go” apparently means to anyone who tries to define it.

Now, I must admit, a part of me felt a surge of relief at his intractability. Because of it, he would also never likely get a 35-pound bike in a tangle with a 10-ton truck. But the relief was tinged with sadness every time a six-year-old whizzed past us – training-wheel-free – on our way to the farmer's market.

But I was letting go.

And now I was moving on … to the grocery shopping part of my day.

I was even considering rolling the blasted training bike out to the end of the driveway just to be done with it. Maybe roll my own antiquated road bike right out there with it. Heck, the girl's peddle-pusher is over the hill, too. Ship them all out to the curb and dust my hands.

How many bikes had we acquired over the years anyway? This one is too small. This one is too tall. … A well-loved hand-me-down here, an unloved Christmas present there. It seemed our garage was a Goldie Locks and the Three Bears morality tale of bicycle ownership, except nothing fit quite right.

And then, as I was mentally cleaning out our garage in the cold cereals aisle, a text from my husband whistled into my phone.

Attached to it was a video of the boy riding the tiny bike at full speed around our quarter-mile driveway … sans safety wheels.

I let go of the idea of getting my garage back and remembered the middle-aged, middle-fingered roadways.

I took a deep breath and let that go, too.

Somewhere there's a bike path less traveled. And someday we'll get there.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A real eye-opener

He squints. One eye, mostly. The left one to be exact. I never thought any more of it than a quirk of personality hailing all the way back to the cradle.

His sister had oddities of her own when she was a baby. Like how she'd toddle around saying 'No' with an English accent; or how one side of her lip drew up into a tiny sneer whenever she parted the air inside her diaper.

She probably wouldn't want me to mention that the effects of infant effluvium made her grimace like a teacup-sized Elvis pretending to be a Beatle, but she's not speaking to me these days. It's not as if I'd understand her anyway. Sheeesh!

But while the girl's rock idol looks have shifted away from the coincidental to the deliberate as she matures, the boy has hung on to his concentrated wink as if it were his nature.

Which is probably why I felt stunned when his pediatrician suggested he see an eye doctor after his last physical.

“It's slight, but I think he has a correctable problem with his vision,” she offered and disappeared into the maze that is her office to find a list of referrals.

“Glasses,?” he asked in shock.

I nodded. “Maybe. … we'll see ...”

I tried to be non-committal as my own sense of shock trickled into guilt and dread.

Was this why his reading was lagging? How could I miss that he was as blind as a bat? Because, of course, this is where the mom-mind goes in the waiting room between preliminary diagnosis and specialist appointments: straight to wondering how the seeing-eye dog would get along with the family pooch.

His half-eyed squint turned into a gaze of tiny, flying daggers. He wanted answers, not shoulder shrugs and altered universes.

“I don't want glasses. I don't even need glasses. I see just fine.”

To which I just sighed and reminded my son that I'm not exactly the boss of him in this instance. That title would have to be transferred to the lady wearing the stethoscope necklace, who also gave him the clearance to pick out a few stickers.

“How does she know what I see?”

Honestly, I don't know how doctors can tell what a kid sees.

There he stood, heels against the wall, looking at a mirror reflection of the eye chart and holding one hand over his non-squinty eye. He was bouncing around from foot to foot as she asked him to read from the poster.

“Well, the words don't make any sense even if I could read them,” said my boy, without a smidgeon of self-doubt.

“Well, let's just try calling out the letters, then shall we?”

“Well, some of them look like numbers, so I'm not sure if I'm seeing the same chart.”

“Do your best.”

“E, P, F, T, O, Z, L ... L … M, N, O, P”

The alphabet song was a dead giveaway that he'd turned over his paper and handed back the test once the letters got to be slightly smaller than poster-sized.

“I just wanted to sing,” he noted by way of explanation.

So, we got to do it all again a few weeks later, this time with a specialist, in a darkened room, with the kid wearing a halo and space-age goggles.

“How's this?” asked the doctor as he spun lens after lens into place. With each click, he'd ask my son to tell him if the letters looked better or worse.

"I guess better. Although I think that S is a 5, which seems pretty tricky."

"Better or worse?"

"Definitely worse. It's all blurred out."

“Better or worse?”

“Better but also a little worser. Mom says worser isn't a word, but I think it should be.”

“Better or worse?”

“Oh, that's just terrible. I think you turned the S into a 5 just to trick people. And that O looks like a D now, too.”

“Better or worse?”

“Hey. That's pretty good. Better. Clearer, too.”

And so … you can imagine it came as an even bigger surprise when the doctor switched on the light and declared his eyesight … “Not that bad. I doubt he'll even notice the difference if I give him a prescription.”

Before I could clear my throat, the boy was making the decision.

“Oh, I DEFINITELY need glasses. My eyes are wide open, now.”

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sleep cycle

These days, at least around my house, sleep is like an errant teenager. It comes home late, sneaks out early, or locks the door and does all manner of things we won't talk about in pleasant company.

It's always worried.

When it does address you, it is sullen and what it relates is unsatisfying.

And no one is exempt.

I can hear sniffling from two rooms away.

And now there's a cough.

“I can't sleep,” announces the smallest voice, not a bit raspy from actually trying.

A light snaps on … and then off.

On again.

The toilet flushes. And then the faucet on the sink opens up.

But it doesn't close all the way.




There are footsteps back to bed.




It just seems to get louder by the drop.

Soon, however, the girl can't stand it. She growls and swings open her door, using every ounce of her being to pound against the floor in protest as she turns off the tap and the light.

Her noise inferring neither were not her responsibility … but there she was putting herself out to have quiet if not peace.

“I need to sleep!” she announces into the air, knowing it would reach her brother … and her parents, who haven't twisted his arm any to toe the line.

The door slams and there is a roil of bedclothes.

Her unfinished thoughts persist in a tumult of tossing and turning.

We are half past the time where I can help. Now I have to wait for her to come to me.

And even then I have to be resigned to the notion that I can only listen and offer suggestions she won't take.

She has to make her own mistakes. And then blame me for them.

More tossing. More turning.

Sleep can't come in just yet.

And it won't visit the boy while it waits, either.

Sleep scrunches its shoulders and listens in the hallway for its chance.

Another sniffle.

Another cough.

The boy pushes past it once again and appears at my bedroom door in his too-small pajamas – his second visit in the half hour – rattling off complaints about the determination of Sleep to stay at a distance. It won't come … or it won't stay.

He is afraid bad dreams will hover over him in the upper bunk.

He doesn't want to count sheep or think any happy thoughts, the only two suggestions I have. And so I follow him to his room and settle down alongside him waiting for this errant guest to arrive.

I will know it by the deep and rhythmic breathing …

and the sound of questions turning into the sound of snoring.

“What's that noise?”

It's a tree limb rubbing against the house.”

“You can't really dig all the way to China, can you?”

“No, you really can't.”

“Are snakes nocturnal?”

“Not exactly.”

“Are they diurnal?”

“Not exactly.”

“Well then, what are they?”

They're cold-blooded, so they're active when they need to be and when it works out temperature wise. Could be night, could be day. It depends.”

But wake-life of reptiles isn't what's keeping him up. It's something else.

“Do I need glasses?”

“Probably. Maybe. I don't know,” I hedge. “We'll have to wait and see.”

“But I can see now. Why do we have to wait?”

“You see now the way you've always seen. But after you get tested you might see better. Then you'll actually see.”

Before he can ask another question, I remind him of my purpose here in the dark: To help Sleep find its way into the room. Because no good things will come if sleep doesn't visit.

And even if no good things ever come, you'll need Sleep even more.

“You really don't make sense when you talk.”

“I think I need your Sleep.”